Monthly Archives: August 2009

Hare today — Snowshoe hares on the rise, predators not far behind

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Liz Jozwiak, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge biologist, displays a snowshoe hare pellet during a grid count Aug. 17 off Funny River Road.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Liz Jozwiak, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge biologist, displays a snowshoe hare pellet during a grid count Aug. 17 off Funny River Road.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Heather Sinclair and Lily Lewis crouched on the ground in the woods off Funny River Road on Aug. 17, meticulously hunting through a square meter of grass, leaf debris, twigs and other forest detritus for their quarry — brown, dry, round, about the size of a pencil eraser and a bellwether of the Kenai Peninsula boreal forest ecosystem:

Bunny poop.

More officially, snowshoe hare pellets.

Sinclair and Lewis were volunteering in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s annual snowshoe hare pellet count, a somewhat ignoble task, yet one that yields important results. Measuring pellet density produces an estimate of the refuge’s snowshoe hare population. Hares are a lynchpin of the forest, affecting and being affected by several aspects of the Kenai Peninsula’s ecosystem — amount of browse, maturation of the forest and abundance of predators.

“They’re a prey species for a lot of predators in the area, including avian predators. If snowshoe hares are doing well, the predators that prey on them are probably doing well, also,” said Liz Jozwiak, a wildlife biologist with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

And so, they count, combing the forest floor for small, brown hare remnants. Sinclair is a University of Alaska Fairbanks student from the central peninsula. She spent the summer working with visitors as a ranger on the refuge and volunteered for the hare pellet count as a way to be involved in the biology side of the organization.

“I just wanted to get experience with another part of refuge,” she said.

Lewis came down from Fairbanks to visit Sinclair, so she volunteered, as well. As a botanist, she usually focuses on plants — and not what eats them — when she’s in the woods.

“I never work with animals in the field, so I wanted to get some experience,” she said. “I’m just here to help, and count poo.” Continue reading

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Wicked burn — Car theft, arson leaves owner feeling singed

Photos courtesy of Paul Wright. Paul Wright, of Soldotna, was informed by Alaska State Troopers that his car was on fire in Nikiski on Aug. 14.  The vehicle was destroyed and all his belongings stolen.

Photos courtesy of Paul Wright. Paul Wright, of Soldotna, was informed by Alaska State Troopers that his car was on fire in Nikiski on Aug. 14. The vehicle was destroyed and all his belongings stolen.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Paul Wright was getting ready to leave for work Aug. 14 at his home on Ruby Circle, off Gaswell Road, when he got a confusing phone call from Alaska State Troopers.

“They said, ‘There’s a vehicle registered in your name that is currently on fire in Nikiski,’” Wright said.

Wright thought it must be a vehicle he had owned years before, had sold and the new owners never transferred it to their name. He asked what kind of vehicle it was, wondering which of his old cars had met its unfortunate demise in a Nikiski inferno.

“They said, “a green, Isuzu Rodeo.”

Wright had parked his 1996 green, Isuzu Rodeo in his driveway when he got home the previous evening.

“I opened my front door, and oh … . My car is gone. That’s how I found out,” he said.

Wright plays bass in The Mabrey Brothers band and got home about 4 a.m. Friday morning after a gig the night before. He parked in the driveway, went to bed, got up later that morning and was getting ready to go to work at noon for his job as a theater technician with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District when he got the call from troopers at about 10:30 a.m. It had rained that night, and Wright hadn’t heard anything amiss over the rain. When he asked his neighbors about it later, they hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual, either. Wright had left his keys in the car, dropped on the floorboard as he usually did when he got home.

“So that was my precautionary measure,” he said, with a verbal eye roll.

“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like me that much. I know that kids will walk through neighborhoods at night, open cars up and steal what’s in them, but these guys just happened to be a little more entrepreneurial, I guess,” he said. Continue reading

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Weighty words — Weight Watchers coordinator retires, leaves healthy example as legacy

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sharon Radtke expresses thanks and support at a Weight Watchers open house held in honor of her retirement Saturday in Soldotna.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sharon Radtke expresses thanks and support at a Weight Watchers open house held in honor of her retirement Saturday in Soldotna.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

To look at Sharon Radtke, of Soldotna, tall, thin and healthy, one wouldn’t expect she has been a devotee of Weight Watchers for more than 30 years.

That’s the whole point.

“People say, ‘Look at you, you don’t need to be on Weight Watchers.’ My response is, ‘I don’t need to be on the program because I am on the program.’ If I wasn’t on the program, I wouldn’t be at my weight range,” she said.

Radtke is in large part responsible for hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of weight loss on the Kenai Peninsula since she started a Weight Watchers program in Soldotna in 1999.

As she retired Saturday from being the Weight Watchers location coordinator on the peninsula, it wasn’t how much that’s been lost that impacted her the most, it was how much has been gained — better health, an understanding of nutrition, good eating and exercise habits, and a circle of good friends and support.

“Coming in and realizing that you’re not alone. The people sitting next to you and around you are going to support you because they’ve gone through the same thing,” Radtke said.

Mary Armstrong, a Weight Watchers group leader in Soldotna, said Radtke has been particularly effective in helping people find success in the program in part because she’s been so successful herself — losing a significant amount of weight and keeping it off for more than 30 years.

“She’s a mentor, she’s a model, she challenges us, she cajoles us, she supports us. It’s a multifaceted leadership post that she is just excellent at accomplishing,” Armstrong said. “She has touched, I don’t know how many hundreds and hundreds of people’s lives just in Weight Watchers. She lives it and she never gives up, which is, of course, a good model and good mentor because there’s no finish line in being healthy.” Continue reading

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Pretty paddle — Kayaking brings flora, fauna into close-up view

Photos by Patrice Kohl, Redoubt Reporter. Sea stars cling to the rocks during low tide in the intertidal zone in Tutka Bay.

Photos by Patrice Kohl, Redoubt Reporter. Sea stars cling to the rocks during low tide in the intertidal zone in Tutka Bay.

Patrice Kohl

Redoubt Reporter

With so much to do during summer in Alaska, it can be hard to settle on any one activity when the weekend arrives. But with a nine-mile water taxi ride across Kachemak Bay and a kayak, an outdoors enthusiast can easily roll many activities into one weekend.

Tutka Bay, a long side pocket off of Kachemak Bay, reaches seven miles into Kachemak Bay State Park with a rugged coastline ideal for kayak exploring. The bay’s waters and surrounding mountain ridges offer serene kayaking, scenic hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities so bold, you’d have to wear blinders not to spot at least a handful of charismatic wildlife specimens. Tutka Bay is a narrow bay with well-protected waters. Generally, only winds out of the northeast can whip up the bay’s waters and these tend to be uncommon. Continue reading

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Common Ground: Gulls test patience for good, clean outdoor fun

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

I was standing at the ruins of a duck blind that had been abandoned for the past few seasons. It would take some work, but the frame was there, and it could be made workable in a few afternoons. The thing about blinds is they’re much like backyard tree forts — a place that is both an escape and a refuge. Coming into a blind after a haul through the marsh muck with a sled of decoys is as much a part of waterfowling as taking ducks.

Add a retriever, a lanyard of duck calls, a bag of carefully groomed decoys, a thermos of coffee and your best friend, and it’s easy to see why the Kenai River flats are loved by so many hunters, despite the fact that the birds aren’t exactly flooding the area. It’s one of those niche places, a wetland between two cities at the mouth of a world-famous river that manages to sustain the smallest amount of its original capacity.

There are still many species of ducks that stop over on the flats. Teal, mallards, widgeon, pintails, shovelers, Canadas, snows, cranes and snipe can all be found in small numbers. The largest number of birds, however, is the only species that cannot be legally hunted: seagulls.

I was reluctant to touch the grass my hunting partner cut for the blind. I’d gotten over my initial squeamishness at crawling through marsh muck in pursuit of ducks, and I’d gotten over field dressing birds. But this was the last straw, literally, a pile of last straws, covered in white seagull poo.

Hundreds of thousands of gulls swarmed overhead and in the distance, flying in every direction and into each other. There were still many gulls that couldn’t fly and the ones in the air were frantic squawking and screaming over their young. The near-grown seagulls on the ground reached their necks out of the grass — creepy, alien-looking birds. They stared blankly with prehistoric eyes and poo-covered bills. One of them vomited nearby.

This is hell, I thought. Poo splattered down from the sky intermittently. Some hit my back. I can handle the rain, but when the weather forecast calls for scattered showers of seagull excrement, I’d rather stay under a roof. Continue reading

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Science of the Seasons: Suffering survival — Fish ‘ick’ part of the salmon life cycle

Photo courtesy of David Wartinbee. A sockeye salmon shows the start of a fungal infection on top of its body, on its fins and tail in a stream near Portage on Monday.

Photo courtesy of David Wartinbee. A sockeye salmon shows the start of a fungal infection on top of its body, on its fins and tail in a stream near Portage on Monday.

By David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Salmon spawning is going on everywhere you look in the Kenai River these days. Along with the spawners can be seen those that have already completed their reproductive duties and are awaiting the next phase of the salmon life cycle — death.

When salmon begin their spawning activities, they are already starting the dying process. Almost immediately they lose their ability to digest food. An obvious question arises here — if a salmon can’t use the food, why can we catch them with food lures? Two reasons are usually put forth as a response. First, we need to remember that salmon are very aggressive fish in the ocean. When they see a bait fish, like a sandlance or herring, they chase it down and eat it. Their high speed and active feeding enables them to grow very rapidly.

While they can no longer digest the prey item, their sensory detectors for taste and movement are still intact. When presented with motion vibrations or food-triggering stimuli, they probably react reflexively and take the “bait.” The most aggressive and fastest swimming of the salmon is the silver, and they just happen to grow the most rapidly when in the ocean. As fishermen, we target silvers because of their feeding aggression and speed in the water. Sockeye salmon, on the other hand, seem to lose that feeding reflex in fresh water and we almost have to snag them in the mouth in order to get them on the line. Continue reading

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Solo harmony — Evans takes collaborative style off on her own path

Katie Evans’ debut CD, “A Passing Afternoon,” is available at Veronica’s.

Katie Evans’ debut CD, “A Passing Afternoon,” is available at Veronica’s.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Plucking Katie Evans out of the crescendoing peal of central Kenai Peninsula musicians is a difficult task. Even at 23, she carries a strong tune in her own right, with how much she’s performed, composed and contributed to the local music scene since moving back here in 2006. But it’s nearly impossible to isolate just her melody, since her roots, evolution and blossoming talent are so intertwined with the musicians with which she harmonizes.

“Playing with so many people really seems to be what made me the musician I am now. All the different people I’ve got to play with and sing with and all that,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s get together and play.’ That’s how I get to know people. I like new projects, because the more you play with people, the more you learn,” Evans said.

Ask her about her music and she answers in terms of the musical family tree she’s cultivated. It’s in part The Goodkind, a collaboration with four other local acoustic songstresses. A big chunk of it is playing with Soldotna musician Vickie Tinker, which has led them to write “a ton” of songs, Evans said, and open for The Duhks when they performed in Homer last year. It’s influence from her mom, who inspired her to start playing guitar when she was about 13. Beyond that, it’s a mash-up of the countless musical collaborations in which she’s participated, whether they were formal enough to warrant a band name or, more often then not, just spontaneous jam sessions.

“There is so much talent in this town. I didn’t even know it when I started doing music here. Little subgroups form from bands. Then you can be like, ‘Hey, come up and play bass with me,’ and they just do,” she said.

Evans loves that about music on the peninsula, she said; how she’s been able to form bonds with so many people in the course of playing, performing and just life, and how that all comes back to influence her music.

“There are these moments and experiences, and I’m like, ‘Alright, there’s a song in that.’ It just happens,” she said.

Those experiences shape her music, and her music shapes her life, which led her to decide to move to Austin, Texas, in early August to spend the winter pursuing a music career.

“It’s something I know I have to do, in a way. I love it here. It’s safe here and I want to end up here again. But I’m 23 and I’ll probably never get to do it again, so I’ll go out into the world,” she said.

Continue reading

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